Navigation Techniques in a World Designed to Send You Off Course

By Don Hall

I am a huge fan of Survivor. I've watched every episode of every season for 15 years. This mystifies some who know me but it isn't that hard to explain. Survivor is simply an unvarnished look (yes, it is highly edited to create a narrative but still...) at how people behave in corporate society.

OK. Go with me on this for a moment.
• It's set in the jungle.
• All are in pursuit of the elusive prize of cash dangled like a toddler in front of Josh Dugger.
• It's a game with real life consequences.
• The most capable of surviving are most often voted off by the most conniving.
• No matter how honest or straight forward someone is, the game itself is like a virus that infects people and turns them into lying sacks of shit.

Sounds like Corporate America, right?

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From my vantage, the worst of these is the last. I watch good, honest people cower behind cubicle walls knowing that if, in the pursuit of a specific task, there is a mistake made, someone is going to feel the wheels of the bus roll right the fuck over them. They know in their sad existence that it won't matter if it was their mistake. Because, in the Corporate Dystopia, the instinct of accountability is beaten out of us and replaced with the need to find and punish the scapegoat.

The gradual creep of self-interest settles in and is slowly justified by any action, any self-serving lie, and those who lie the loudest or the best are rewarded for it. We want to believe in karmic justice but the Corporate Ideology trumps karma and the best we have is the idea that he or she has to live with themselves. In the sociopathic diorama of the Business School Dogma, the worst of us almost always wins.

On Survivor, this is exemplified by the cast member who, at the beginning of the season, insists on his or her desire to play the game honestly and without deceit. And then one of two things happens: he stays honest and gets blindsided and voted off or she suddenly finds herself stabbing someone in the back to get closer to that green and shrugging it off if it as just playing the game.

Just playing the game.

At the end of a Survivor season, three people sit in front of a jury of players they have been involved in voting off and have to make a case that each deserves the million dollars. Inevitably, the most used excuse for behaving in disingenuous and sociopathic ways during the season is that, "I was playing the game." When viewed as a means to win a game being an unrepentant scumbag seems to win the votes of most of the jury.  

In the Corporate world, the same excuse is made with the lens of, "I have to look out for myself first and foremost so any behavior I exhibit in the day-to-day workplace is just doing what I have to do to stay employed."   

Just playing the game, right? 

Watching people get voted off from a job, however, is not the same as being voted off on a television show. Watching a 15-year employee be escorted out of the building after being blindsided with the news that he has been deemed "no longer necessary" without the dignity of even being allowed to gather his things from his desk is fucking ugly and real. This forced exile is designed to scare the rest of the cubicle farm into submission. And it does scare the rest. And they do submit to the bullshit psychotic unfeeling behavior; the rest learn that unless they engage in the secret meetings, the passing the buck of accountability to the players who embrace this culture uneasily, they are more likely to have to walk that humiliating walk out the door.

I believe that I would be voted off the island early in the game because, while I can play that game, I refuse to go along. Which means that I'll never get to win a million dollars and I'll always be a pretty crappy business person. I'm OK with that. The concept of the soul is just as ephemeral as the concepts of monetary security or loyalty from a corporation but I choose to put my investment into my soul. At least you can't vote my soul away from me. Only I can give that away.